Monday 28 December 2020

Carmarthenshire Council and the Picton problem

After the death of George Floyd earlier this year, the BLM movement, and the subsequent controversy over statues, most notably the toppling of Colston into the murky depths of the Bristol dockside, Carms council pondered over what to do about the Picton Memorial, Carmarthen, and Picton's portrait hanging in the old courthouse.
The pondering only occurred because there was a petition to rename the monuments with over 14,000 signatures.

Sir Thomas Picton was a soldier who met his end at the battle of Waterloo.
Unfortunately he was also deeply involved in the lucrative slave trade and in 1797 became the brutal and corrupt Governor of Trinidad, if that wasn’t bad enough, he also approved the illegal torture of a 14 year old girl called Louisa Calderon, and was accused of executing at least dozen slaves. 
Further details of the horrors he meted out were uncovered by civil rights campaigner Khafra Kambon, and featured in this BBC article from 2007.

Detecting some, erm, heavily polarised online opinions over the issue, the council thought it safer to consult the public, who could then blame each other rather than our illustrious exec board. They could call it democracy.
The 14,000 name petition was ignored.

Cardiff Council, on the other hand, voted to remove his statue from Cardiff City Hall's 'Welsh heroes' gallery in July.

Public opinion was hotly divided, with the ‘where does it end?’ pro-Picton camp, led by such, er, luminaries as Neil Hamilton, winning the day against, well, those seeking eternal justice for victims of Picton, the ‘snowflakes’, apparently. So it seems that both the memorial and portrait are here to stay. After all the man was, apparently, a war hero, as well as a serial abuser and torturer of little girls.

The Plaid Cymru Exec Board decided after much pontification-via-zoom, and the useful passage of time since the initial furore, to just add QR codes and ‘information boards’ so that curious observers could find out the truth about Mr Picton for themselves, if they could be bothered, or could get online.
It’s a bit like keeping a memorial to Jimmy Savile because he was once a popular tv presenter and fundraiser, with the ghastly truth only available down the other end of a wobbly phone line or a faded sign.

And why Picton's portrait should still grace a building once dedicated to handing out ‘justice’, rather than being binned, is a mystery.

Anyway, I daresay the issue of cold hard cash played its part, an info board and QR codes will cost around £5000, demolishing the huge obelisk would have added at least a nought, probably two.

Rededicating could have posed even more dilemmas, the obvious choice, I would have thought, would be in memory of Louisa Calderon and the unfortunate souls of Trinidad. But no doubt Emlyn would prefer a more recent hero of his, Mr Mark James CBE, not quite a Sir, and maybe not a CBE for much longer, but close enough for Emlyn...The problem is that it would require an even bigger info board and QR thing to explain that Mr James is in fact, also a bully, also corrupt, and a liar and a crook to boot. And of course, Mr James is very much alive, and currently conning the unsuspecting folk of Century Wharf from the safety of his Carmarthen residence.

In all seriousness, removing or rededicating the memorial would not be 'changing or erasing history', it would be recognising the fact that Picton was a cruel bully and doesn't exactly deserve veneration. Politics has nothing to do with it.

Just as well he's not alive today, they'd probably make him Leader of the Council.
Anyway that’s the end of Carmarthen's Picton saga, for now, after all, historical accuracy and truth is not something Carms Council readily signs up for. 

So it’s a happy new year from me, I will ensure that 2021 brings justice, truth, and accountability.

Wednesday 9 December 2020

Century Wharf - Mark James’ take-over bid

As a follow on post from 'Tangled webs', yet again we see that one of the police suspects, currently languishing under criminal investigation from the Wellness scandal, has lost no time in adding to his growing business portfolio with yet another company appearing on Companies House on Tuesday.

As we know, just before Mark James, former CEO of Carmarthenshire Council, and Private Eye’s Shit of the Year 2016, hurriedly ‘retired’ he set up his own lucrative consultancy company, which clearly needed no online presence, due, no doubt to all those useful contacts garnered at County Hall, and such a wealth of inside knowledge of City Deal plans, etc, from the corridors of power.

Not one to bother his then employers, the council, with such trifles as declaring business interests, he failed to register his directorship of the three Century Wharf Right To Manage Companies, his building services company, his property portfolio (including Caebrwyn's humble abode), or his dodgy venture into Kuwait with his equally disgraced mates, Marc Clement and co, so recently booted out of Swansea Uni.

One will never know how much in the way of public resources went into Mr James' private interests. After all, he unashamedly funnelled thousands of pounds of public money into his private vendettas.

His shady business dealings in Century Wharf may have gone undetected if it wasn’t for pesky residents complaining to the press back in 2017 about the unpleasant activities of Airbnb guests, and his management of the Right To Manage (RTM) company, which included claims to legal advice which were never disclosed, claims to ministerial 'contacts', and veiled legal threats to those who questioned his actions. 

More recently it emerged that Mr James had ensured his mates from far flung Llangennech enjoyed their share of the fruits of Century Wharf.

All of which should sound very familiar to his long-suffering former subjects of Carmarthenshire.

The latest addition to Mr James’ business portfolio, registered on December 8th, is CW Estates Management Company Ltd.

After the recent row over forged signatures on EWS1 forms. All blame for failed due diligence checks into the company commissioned to inspect the complex for combustible materials was placed squarely on Warwick Estates, who run Century Wharf on behalf of the RTM. As a result Warwick seem to have been given notice that their contract was being terminated.

Due diligence from the Chair of the RTM didn’t seem to have been an issue, funny that, especially given Mark James experience with forged documents.

Not one to miss an opportunity for personal gain, Mr James’ new venture, CW Estates Management, is the replacement vehicle for Warwick Estates. His co-directors, as you can see from Companies House, are Owein Mattey (still listed as Warwick Estates manager) and the Century Wharf RTM finance manager, Ryan Howells.  
Presumably James will have to relinquish his position on the RTM, at some point, as this would, of course, create a direct conflict of interest.

His dictatorship at County Hall appears to have moved seamlessly to Cardiff Bay. And will no doubt will create lucrative opportunities for his consultancy, his other business interests, including his building inspection company, and his friends.

Of course, as he is no longer employed by the council he can do as he likes, he even has £165 a month pocket money from me to help him along, which apparently he puts in the nearest gutter.

Unfortunately, from his lengthy reign at County Hall, he also has a track record any self-respecting mafia boss would aspire to. I may have mentioned this before, as a warning to unsuspecting residents and colleagues of Century Wharf in particular, but its a fact worth repeating. 

In fact, it was a former Police Commissioner who described County Hall as a Sicilian cartel; "it extracts vast amounts of money from residents which it showers on favourites, hoards property, bullies opponents, co-opts friends and answers to no one, least of all local councillors."

Mr James doesn’t take kindly to criticism, he even set up his own illegal slush fund, with public money, to deal with awkward customers. Neither does he like people ‘going to the press’, he called Century Wharf residents who did just that and criticised his management of the RTM, ‘a cancer’. 

He doesn’t like the press, (or bloggers) or anyone who calls him out for what he is, an arrogant, vindictive and thoroughly dishonest individual. God help anyone in Century Wharf who opposes him now.

He made a career out of trying to silence the local press in Carmarthenshire, even resorting to blackmail. 
As for democracy, he spent his seventeen years at County Hall stamping it out. And his legacy continues.
The only role council leaders had was to polish Mr James' CBE.

So don’t expect a friendly ‘suggestion box’ to be installed in the Century Wharf concierge office.

After creating numerous white elephants around the county, which inevitably became propped up by the taxpayer, he then tried to put his unpleasant, and fateful stamp on the Swansea Bay City Deal. 

The City Deal, however, was a bigger fish than Carmarthenshire Council and various ‘partners’ soon saw him for what he was, an arrogant, compulsive liar. And some said as much. In fact it was his management, erm, technique which nearly scuppered the whole billion pound deal. Carmarthenshire council were stripped of various roles and the investigators called in. 

The tender process for the Wellness village, manipulated and twisted by Mr James, to a pliant audience of dimwitted and fearful Councillors was the final nail in his coffin. 

And it was this, covered extensively on this blog, and the allegations that he and his friends from Swansea Uni were attempting to line their own pockets, that led to the police raiding his home and seizing his computers in July 2019, and so, not for the first time, did he become a criminal suspect. And, at the time of writing, he most definitely still is. 

I also hear that his arrogance got the better of him earlier this year, but more of that in due course.

Personally speaking I wouldn’t let him any where near a child’s piggy bank, let alone manage a multi million pound complex of luxury apartments. There’s only one pocket Mr James wants to line, and that’s his own.

Be warned!

Mark James, Century Wharf

Friday 4 December 2020

The leaked £191,000 costs report - redacted, five years on

I've been quietly battling, since February, to get the Executive Board report, now nearly five years old, which recommended that the council pursue me for £191,000 in legal defence costs from the libel case. 

The report also considered pursuing me for the unlawful indemnity counterclaim costs which they decided, at the time, to leave well alone. I wonder why... 

At a subsequent court hearing the council got a charge on my home for the full £191,000. The judge was surprised that they were pursuing it and said he applied it 'reluctantly'.

Mark James was already in the process of getting a legal charge, instalments, and a suspended order for sale for his damages and enforcement costs, totalling around £46,000. You may recall his comments about stuffing the money in the gutter. And the judge's shock that he'd lied to the council about handing over any damages.

My FOI request for this elderly report earlier this year followed a meeting with Plaid Cymru's Adam Price AS in January. Mr Price promised to write to Plaid leader Emlyn Dole asking him to consider removing the charge as the threat of it hanging over us was crippling, financially and emotionally. 

Cllr Dole flatly and belligerently refused and reminded Mr Price that they could come after me for the money 'at any time'. Charming. I asked Mr Price to write again to Mr Dole but heard no more. Perhaps he doesn't want to rock election boats...

They knew damn well at the time, in 2016, that I definitely had no means, nor assets to ever pay it. 
This was never about getting money back, it was purely vindictive, and all about punishment, and led by Mark James.

Anyway back to this report. 

I was eventually sent a copy. Confusingly it had been refused under FOI but disclosed under data protection. The problem was that as it had been considered in private, in 2016, (despite my calls at the time for it to be heard in public and for me to be able to make representations) it was heavily redacted. The whole thread of the FOI, and the redacted report can be seen on the What Do They Know site.

Unsurprisingly the only bits left, pretty much, was the damning nonsense said about me and a few choice quotes from Tugenhat's judgement. Even from the remnants left in, it was easy to tell this wasn't an 'objective' report. Not surprising given the influence of Mark James and his legal disciple, and report author Linda Rees Jones.

Under data protection they had not only removed Mark James' name (unnecessary, but understood), but the internal and legal advice which they'd included in the report. I didn't know they could use the legal privilege exemption under data protection but apparently they can.

I duly took the matter to the Information Commissioner (ICO). My argument for the redaction to be removed from all of it (apart from Mr James' precious name) was that the report was reaching its fifth birthday, the matter had already been decided by a County Court judgement and, more to the point, the full document had been leaked to the press after it was discussed in 2016.

The first I heard that they had decided to go after me for £191,000 was via a phone call from a reporter from the Carmarthen Journal who had a copy in front of him. It was a few days after the 2016 meeting. I was in shock. 

He read out a couple of bits but I didn't see the full document, nor, given the awful news, did I quite absorb all he was saying. I also found out that Emlyn Dole had already had a little chat with him and issued a statement, before I even knew what had happened. 
I had been told to wait until all 74 councillors had been informed and the minutes published. No councillors were informed, and the minutes not published until a few days later.

Emlyn Dole was the leaker, on orders from Mark James, who went on to win Private Eye's Shit of the Year award for 2016.

The Information Commissioner got back to me a few weeks ago. They had decided that the council had to 'revisit' the way they handled the request. Not exactly pushing the boat out.

Yesterday I had a response from the council (my emphasis).
"I write with regard to your complaint to the Information Commissioner in respect of this matter which was received from the ICO on the 10th November.

In light of your complaint the content of the report you have requested has been compared to information published by the Council  to ascertain if, as you suggest it’s contents are already in the public domain.  We are satisfied that the content of the report has not been published by the
Council in another document or another form.

Your complaint however states that the Council ‘leaked’ the report at the time it was considered. We can find no evidence that this was the case. Please can you confirm when precisely it was ‘leaked’ and to whom. If the report (or its contents) have already appeared in the public domain, then
please confirm where and when.

The decision to redact some of the report in response to your request will then be revisited in light of the information that you provide."

Of course this is all game playing. Interesting that they could find 'no evidence' of a leak. After the Journal reported on the decision, with the document to hand, so did the BBC, and the Carmarthenshire Herald, it even made the front page. The Herald article examined the leak in detail. 

I also wrote about it on my blog. Given that Mark James was, at the time, using taxpayers' resources to rummage through my blog for his failed complaint to the police, it's surprising he missed it...

Carmarthenshire Herald April 2016

Of course, as the council already know, no one actually published the full report, only the Journal published figures which can only have come from the document. I will point this out to the council, as this ridiculous game, and play on words, continues. 

Interestingly their latest response makes no mention of the rationale behind withholding an old report on a matter which has already been decided in court, which was also part of my complaint to the ICO. It was in fact, Robert Edgecombe, the council's solicitor who applied all the redactions, and who represented the council in court. 
You might conclude that not only are they taking the p***, but they also have something to hide.

One thing is certain, I'll not drop any of this. And with former CEO Mark James; liar, thief and all round crook still under police investigation, the fight will go, regardless.

Thursday 3 December 2020

The Burn family - Nia Griffith MP petitions parliament

Llanelli MP Nia Griffith (Lab) has petitioned parliament to call for an independent review into the way Dyfed Powys Police handled the case of the Burn family back in 2010. The family have been seeking justice ever since. For background, the case has been covered on this blog in the past, most recently in 2017 here and here. Former County Councillor Sian Caiach has also written extensively about the case. The Daily Express also published an article in 2017, here.

In 2010 Carina Burn, who was then nineteen, was taken from her parents, Robin and Julia after carers, contracted by the council, made allegations that Carina had conveyed to them that she was being abused by her parents. Carina is profoundly autistic, cannot speak and has very limited communication skills. Incidentally, shortly before the allegations were made, Julia had queried the disappearance of Carina's pocket money when her daughter was out with the carers.

The police found no evidence of abuse and eventually admitted that the allegations were fabricated. No action was taken against the carers. The allegations were further discredited by an expert witness who examined Carina's capacity, or lack of, to communicate.

However, despite no action being taken, Carina was not returned to her parents for six months. This was a traumatic experience for the family and left Carina profoundly distressed, tearful and frightened to leave her parents for a very long time.

Carina, aided by her legal team, won a civil claim against the various authorities for the contravention of her human rights, and her solicitor gave this damning comment at the time;

“This was a horrific case and Carina and her family were let down by every authority that should have been helping them, with devastating consequences… the family did their best to raise their concerns through appropriate channels but it was only through legal proceedings that the police, local authority and a psychiatrist engaged by the local authority all finally admitted their catastrophic failures.”

This has been a long uphill struggle for Carina's parents and, unsurprisingly, they feel that individuals within both the police and the council have attempted to brush the whole business under the carpet. The following petition put forward by MP Nia Griffith is now on the record and is the latest stage in their struggle for justice for Carina.

Hansard: December 2nd 2020

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab) 
Independent Review of Dyfed-Powys Police

My constituents and their daughter Carina were put through months and years of anguish on the basis of evidence collected against National Policing Improvement Agency guidance for which the police have never apologised, so I rise to present to the House the petition of Julia and Robin Burn.

The petition states:

The petition of Julia and Robin Burn,

Declares that, in 2010, in conducting their investigations into allegations made against the petitioners, Dyfed-Powys Police did not proceed in accordance with the appropriate National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) guidance; further declares that these allegations were later found to be groundless and without merit; further that this resulted in the petitioners’ mute autistic daughter being taken into local authority care for six months; and further that, after no further action was taken, no attempt was made to return her.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to instigate an independent review of Dyfed-Powys Police’s handling of this case.

And the petitioners remain, etc.

They now wait for a response.

Carina at home with her parents, November 2017